An early Saturday morning followed by a run around Paris that would make Amazing Race contestants proud left us ready for a breather. Our stop in Lille had us wanting more of that quaint town feeling, and we were lucky to have those wishes granted in Nazareth, Belgium.
During my time in El Paso, I was introduced to Couchsurfing. There, we hosted several Couchsurfers from cities all over the world, allowing them into our home for a few nights of rest, food, showers, and a few trips to see the city’s highlights. Having a stranger stay in your home can be a bit intrusive for some, but if you open up your home and heart, after a few minutes you have a new friend!
With that in mind, we decided to give Couchsurfing a try in Belgium. On our list of cities to visit were Bruges and Ghent. We requested couches, or any place with a cushion, in the city of Bruges and were delighted to have a great guy named Tim accept our request. He lives a short train ride from Ghent, and offered to bring us to Bruges on his day off of work. Could it be any more perfect?
Yes, it could!
After a good night’s rest Sunday night, Ben on a twin bed and I on an air mattress complete with a Ratatouille comforter, we all three woke up Monday morning to check out the city of Bruges in West Flanders. Tim had not yet been to Bruges, so he stayed up Sunday night preparing to show us the most iconic sites. He was a great help and wealth of knowledge, taking us to historic churches such as the Basilica of the Holy Blood, and showing us the beguines, or houses where nuns live and the gardens available for their peaceful enjoyment. He told us how lace and chocolates truly are an important part of Belgium’s being, and even took us to a brewery for a taste of our first freshly brewed Belgium beer.
Monday being the Belgium National Holiday (yes, just one week later than France’s big day!) we noticed a large crowd gather near a gorgeous church. Belgian flags were flying, and police were scattered around. A parade? Yes. and… A Princess! The Princess of Belgium, Princess Mathilde, had come to celebrate her country’s holiday with the city of Bruges! There were military bands, multiple processions, speeches, and flocks of delighted townspeople following her throughout the town. This was something we hadn’t planned on, and was a fun jolt of energy on that crisp day.
After the Princess left town, we decided to do the same. As it was still early afternoon, Tim drove us up to the city of Ostend to enjoy the coast and dip our feet in the North Sea.
The three of us had a pleasant walk along the boardwalk, stopping to see a sand sculpture display, feel the sea’s water kiss our ankles, and eat some Mussles fresh from that morning. Ben had heard long ago of a story about eating Mussels in Bruges. Why mussels in Bruges and not mussels in Brussels? We’re not sure. But this, we decided, was just as good.
On Tuesday, Tim met up with family and Ben and I took the short train ride to Gent of East Flanders. The city was in the midst of their summertime celebration appropriately named “Ten Days Off.”
Belgians took this to heart, as most shops were closed and the streets were packed. Circuses, concerts, vendors galore. The whole city was pulsing with energy. We took time away from the streets to view one Het Lam Gods, an impeccable piece of art dating from 1432 by Belgian artists Jan and Hubert Van Eyck. We also explored the city’s Graventeen Castle, built in 1180. After a full day in the city, we went back to Nazareth for one final night’s Ratatouille robed rest.
The exploration of the low countries would continue on Wednesday as we headed south to Brussels!
PS- Thanks, Tim for a great stay! And anyone looking into couch surfing, check it at: www.couchsurfing.org Give it a go!